According to the brain-training industry, the brain is like a muscle. You need to work it constantly if you want to improve its learning function. This explains why so many children are increasingly found bent over their notebooks, solving more and more literacy exercises and numeracy tests by the minute.
But according to neuroscientist Gregory Berns, the brain is a “lazy piece of meat” that hates wasting too much energy. It doesn’t want to work too much – which explains why so many of us have a problem with imagination. For instance, if you’re someone who lives close to the beach, your brain is probably well versed with what a sunset by the sea looks like. The next time someone asks you to visualize any sunset by any sea, your brain will take the simplest way out by reactivating the same neurons that processed a similar kind of scene before. But try asking yourself to imagine a sunset on a planet like Saturn. You will find it much harder to come up with creative possibilities since your brain can’t rely on information shaped by past experiences.
What Research Says
A study was published in the Public Library of Science (PLOS One) where researchers recruited 40 healthy college-going Chinese men and women who were attending classes to learn English.1 They did have facilitation with regard to learning this language but were reported being far from proficient.
The students were divided into two groups. The first group continued learning English as before – mainly while attending sessions of rote vocabulary-memorization. The second group supplemented their learning process by riding a stationary bike 20 minutes before the start of their lessons and continuing this exercise for about 15 minutes into the class.
Results Of The Study
Also, when asked to return to the laboratory for a final test, one month after the lessons without any practice in between, the students on bikes were able to recall what they had learned much better than those who remained stationary.
What Does This Mean?
Neurologists explain that certain parts of grey matter are used in both learning and exercising. Thus, fairly intense exercises like a brisk walk or bicycling can increase blood flow to these parts of the brain and fuel the learning process.
The key point to remember here is that one needs to do some really intense exercises that can get your heart pumping out blood at a faster rate in order to learn better. For instance, yoga won’t be as effective as cardio in helping you learn as yoga is aimed at calming your brain rather than making it work faster. On the other hand, aerobic exercises that work your muscles hard and make you sweat profusely boost blood circulation to your brain and increase the size of the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain that is associated with verbal learning and memory formation.3 This explains why parts of the brain that regulate thinking and memory have greater volume in people who exercise as compared to that of the brains of those people who lead a more sedentary lifestyle.4
Past studies have also shown that exercise triggers the release of various neurochemicals that increases the number of brain cells and improves communication between the neurons.5 These effects are thought to have a significant impact on the brain’s ability to learn new information.
To Further Improve Your Memory
Each day, your brain makes plenty of connections and learns multiple new things with every passing hour, but not all of these are worth saving. So sleep is a time when your brain’s synapses consolidate this new information – storing the bits it needs in permanent memory and pruning back the ones that it doesn’t.
Studies show that when learning a certain task and recalling that same task were separated by a night of sleep rather than the same amount of time during waking hours, people recalled information much better.6
Therefore, it is evident that good quality sleep is vital for improving your brain’s ability to store important information, which in turn, affects your learning process.
|↑1, ↑2||Liu, Fengqin, Simone Sulpizio, Suchada Kornpetpanee, and Remo Job. “It takes biking to learn: Physical activity improves learning a second language.” PloS one 12, no. 5 (2017): e0177624.|
|↑3||Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills.
|↑4||Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Harvard Medical School.|
|↑5||Meeusen, Romain, and Kenny De Meirleir. “Exercise and brain neurotransmission.” Sports Medicine 20, no. 3 (1995): 160-188.|
|↑6||Gais, Steffen, Brian Lucas, and Jan Born. “Sleep after learning aids memory recall.” Learning & Memory 13, no. 3 (2006): 259-262.|